Britta Momanyi ’22
At the end of her second year at Duke Law, Britta Momanyi started working as a case investigator for the Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR) in Minneapolis. She then developed a faculty-mentored externship through which she was able to continue her engagement with this work through her final year of law school.
Looking into allegations of misconduct by members of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) has represented “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do impactful work at an incredibly influential place in an unbelievably historic time,” says Momanyi, who grew up in nearby Bloomington, Minn. “George Floyd’s murder reverberated in hearts and minds around the world. The choices we make in this moment will not be lost on our future as a nation.
“This work is necessary, impactful, and central to the core of why so many pursue a legal education in the first place — to advocate for justice for those from whom it has been systemically deprived.”
Momanyi’s OPCR investigations include reviewing officers’ body camera video and interviewing complainants, witnesses, and the officers whose conduct is under investigation. Her investigative reports are submitted to a review panel consisting of two MPD officers and two civilians who subsequently make recommendations regarding the merits of the complaint to the chief of police.
Minneapolis is one of just a few police oversight jurisdictions in the United States that allow civilians access to police records, Momanyi explains, adding that OPCR also stands out for having both investigative and audit power: “That is to say they can receive public complaints, initiate their own investigations, and conduct large-scale audits of police conduct and policy through quantitative research and analysis.”
During her externship, which was supervised by the head of the Civil Rights Department, Momanyi took on additional duties designed to enhance her legal skills, such as presenting in public forums like the Police Conduct Oversight Commission, which audits and studies the police department to make recommendations on its policies and procedures, and working with the Complaint Investigations Division on employment discrimination matters.
“Fortunately, I had just taken Employment Discrimination in the spring 2021 semester, so I was able to apply the relevant case law with ease,” she says.
Jerome M. Culp Professor of Law Trina Jones, who teaches Employment Discrimination, calls herself “extremely fortunate” to have engaged with Momanyi both in that course and as her faculty mentor during her OPCR externship. “Britta’s intellect is exceptional,” says Jones. “It is matched by her demonstrated commitment to service and to fighting injustice. The paper that she produced, advocating for greater transparency in governmental data practices statutes, is a must read and will be tremendously useful to both jurists and policymakers concerned with securing greater accountability for police misconduct.”
“Britta’s intellect is exceptional. It is matched by her demonstrated commitment to service and to fighting injustice.”— Professor Trina Jones
Momanyi says she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to engage in the work of OPCR in her home state at this particular moment. “I need to have a personal connection to my work to feel fulfilled and to stay motivated in public service.”
A graduate of the University of Minnesota, where she double majored in political science and the sociology of law, criminology, and deviance, Momanyi was drawn to study law from a desire to advocate with and for people affected by systemic discrimination.
“Growing up, I had seen a lot of racial and class-based oppression and it bothered me deeply,” she says. Some hit particularly close to home, such as her father’s experience of racial discrimination in the workplace and her mother’s reluctance to pursue treatment or compensation for a workplace injury because of her reliance on her employer’s goodwill and recommendation to secure future positions.
“In my opinion, her socioeconomic struggles had essentially infiltrated her sense of agency and made it feel like she couldn’t possibly win even if she had a valid claim,” says Momanyi. “This infuriated me because it was horrible to see my mother suffering when she had a valid claim, but I understand that sometimes it’s not just lack of knowledge that prevents people from pursuing legal action but years of systemic oppression that makes them identify with a state of suffering.
“These experiences made me realize that I had the privilege of my education, that my parents had sacrificed for, and the power of my personal experience with these issues, and I felt called to use that privilege to advocate with those who had been systemically oppressed.”
Having joined the Minnesota Army National Guard as a college freshman after recruiters she served at Olive Garden explained the education and tuition benefits available to members, Momanyi served for six years as a paralegal specialist, attaining the rank of sergeant. Immediately prior to starting law school she was deployed for eight months to Kuwait and Jordan as an administrative law paralegal, conducting investigations on a range of non-criminal matters, educating soldiers about sexual harassment, and reviewing command policies. “My deployment is where I found my true love for investigations,” she says, noting that it ended just two weeks before she began her Duke Law orientation.
At Duke, Momanyi earned an Equal Justice America fellowship, clerked at Legal Aid of North Carolina, and acted as co-director of the Veterans Assistance Project at Duke Law. She found Social Justice Lawyering to be a favorite course; co-taught by Clinical Professor Anne Gordon, the director of externships, and Clinical Professor Jesse McCoy, the supervising attorney of the Civil Justice Clinic, the course shows students how lawyers interested in social justice can work with communities, individual clients, social and political causes, and legal systems for change.
“Due to our society’s tendency to hold lawyers up on a pedestal and the lack of attention to the value and benefit that community members can provide to solving issues, many perpetuate harmful hierarchies because they view themselves as the sole providers of value in these exchanges,” Momanyi says. “I realized that my calling to public service was less about the specific work I was doing, and instead it was about the community I was working with.”
Now a newly minted Duke Law graduate, Momanyi is happy to be launching her legal career at OPCR.
“The horrific images [of George Floyd’s murder] brought to mind a reality that many failed to see — the reality that systemic racism is a collection of deliberate choices,” she says. “Specifically, the choice to take the easy way out and adhere to how it’s always been, to stand by silently and not say anything, to not do anything. Well, here I am trying to do something. I am trying to utilize my personal experience and the privilege of an elite legal education to make a difference in Minnesota.”